Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione is both realistic and upbeat about the Sooners' 9-3 football season, leading to their landing in the Dec. 30 Insight Bowl against Iowa. Castiglione spoke Saturday with The Oklahoman about the bowl game and OU's work-in-progress 2012 schedule.
You estimate you've sold 6,000 of your 11,000 Insight Bowl tickets. Concerning? Normal? Do we read too much into ticket numbers?
“The bowls have changed a bit in the past few years. … You're dealing with businesses out there that are in the so-called secondary ticket market — the StubHubs, the Razor Gators, even the bowl itself. Our fans have a wonderful reputation of traveling to different bowls, to bowl games and road games. They're savvy. They know how to get tickets through other sources, particularly to get better seats than we may be allocating. We've known that. Typically visiting fans are in certain sections that aren't prime locations. They're finding ways to get tickets through other sources. Even the last two years, when we went to the Sun Bowl or last year, we had a number in our mind, of how many fans we thought would travel, based on the sales we could count. Then when we got to game day, there were many more fans there. You find that they go through other sources. What that number (this year) may be remains to be seen. Our fans have typically responded well.”
What about the idea of returning again to Phoenix, for the second consecutive year and the fourth time in the past six years?
“Destination is sometimes a factor, for any fan of any school. Sometimes it's the attractiveness of a destination. For people, they may want to go and take their family because it's a mini-vacation. Sometimes the accessibility of the destination, and the cost of getting there, may be factors. The setting certainly is great. Being in Phoenix, it's a super location. Some people may want to go out there in the winter, anyway. You could say the same for bowls in South Florida or California. They're tourist-type destinations. But, ultimately, sports will be determined by an individual's discretionary spending. We understand there can be decisions made, for whatever reasons. Hopefully following our team and being there will be appealing. We haven't played many Big Ten teams the last 10 or 20 years. We believe by the time we get to the game, we'll have a really good following.
“The other part about Phoenix is it's drivable for many. You can just drive. We'll find out. The number of fans going west from this area usually makes air travel tough, because there are only so many flights and they fill up fast. We recognize that. You think about all the hubs from here going toward Phoenix, sometimes people fly into San Diego and drive over, or fly into Vegas and drive down. There'll be a lot of people get creative. We'll have a really strong following. The destination part, if someone determines there's fatigue, that's perhaps an individual choice. The Big Ten champion may go three out of four years to L.A., and you don't see them getting fatigued. And that's an expensive destination. If they're in the Rose Bowl, typically they're taking 30-plus-thousand fans there. You don't ever hear anybody say anything. I'm not sure I'm going to buy that excuse, exclusively. For some, it may be. But, in our case I believe, it'll continue the great reputation that our fans have in our bowl history, that we'll have a strong following of the Sooners in Tempe on Dec. 30.”
Do you worry or wonder how fans will respond to a team that lost two of its last three, despite national championship aspirations and expectations?
“Our goals are always going to be focused on winning the conference championship. When we've done that, we've had a great chance to make it to the national championship. When we set lofty goals, you know, perhaps there's room to have more disappointment. But we're not going to apologize for having the kind of program that has those goals, the winningest program in the modern era and has wonderful tradition. It's the foundation on which we're trying to strengthen. If we set our sights high, there's a chance you could fall short. That's the way we're structured, to have high goals. It's in our DNA. That's how we're going to approach our season, regardless. Some years you're going to have more experienced teams. Some years you're going to have young teams. Some years you're going to face injuries. Some years you're going to have unforeseen circumstances. Things occur and you deal with them. You try to make the best out of every possible situation. That's how we've always been here. Now, we're in a bowl game. It's a championship, in and of itself. Our focus is to try to win the Insight Bowl and end our season on a positive note.”